Key Matchup: Kentucky Rushing Attack vs. USC Linebackers
By Zach Crowl
The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats are not exactly a force to be reckoned with. With a 1-3 record and an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Western Kentucky, the Wildcats don’t pose much of a threat to the surging South Carolina Gamecocks. There is one bright side to an otherwise lousy Kentucky team, however: the running back duo of juniors Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George. This skilled tandem has given opposing defenses grief. The problem with the Wildcat offense is that they don’t seem to give these two backs enough touches to take over the game. Sanders has only been given 26 carries and George has rushed only 32 times. However, when given the chance, these two backs are impressive, as Sanders averages 7.7 yards per carry while George’s rate is still noteworthy at 4.8 yards per rush. These two are not only limited to the run game either. George is known for his skill in the receiving game, and Sanders is still improving coming out of the backfield. If the Wildcats want to have any shot of hanging with the Gamecocks, head coach Joker Phillips needs to utilize the weapons he has in the backfield.
Attempting to shut down the Kentucky tag-team rushing attack Saturday will be the the resilient linebacker corps for the Gamecocks. Led by senior Shaq Wilson, this crew has stifled every offense they have faced this season. Carolina has allowed an average of only 67 rushing yards from each opponent this season, giving up one 100-yard rushing game the entire season thus far. Wilson has anchored the defense with 25 tackles this season, though Demario Jeffery and Devonte Holloman have played crucial roles as well. Even when these three are out of the game, they are replaced by more-than-capable backups. Reginald Bowens and Quin Smith are well into the double-digits in tackles. This strong group of linebackers won’t be intimidated Saturday as they have faced–and shut down–their fair share of tough backs in the past.
Edge: Kentucky may have a couple of talented players in their backfield, but Joker Phillips hasn’t been able to use them effectively this season. Sanders and George are not receiving enough carries to create noticeable problems for opposing defense, though no number of carries would help to make a dent against South Carolina’s unflappable linebacking corps Saturday.